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Thursday, July 24, 2008


Page 15



William McAdoo: Nemesis of Isidore B. Dockweiler




Isidore B. Dockweiler was defeated in the Aug. 31, 1926 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate nomination, losing to John B. Elliott, the contestant sponsored by former Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo. The outcome was seen as a boon to the political cause of McAdoo, who was gearing up for his third try for the Democratic nomination for president.

A Sept. 15, 1926 nationally syndicated piece by a special correspondent of the Consolidated Press Association observes:

“Mr. Elliott has won the fight with Mr. Dockweiler, but neither would seem to have the ghost of a show at the election in November. The fight was not for the senatorship. It was for the control of the California delegation to the next national convention.”

Elliott was, in fact, defeated by the Republican incumbent, U.S. Sen. Samuel Shortridge, who garnered 63 percent of the ballots. (Shortridge was the brother of the first female attorney in California, after whom the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center is named.)

Two years later, however, Dockweiler had the laugh…though not the last laugh in a rivalry with McAdoo that would persist for years…by gaining election of a slate of delegates to the Democratic National Convention, headed by himself. In doing so, he trounced the rival slate led by McAdoo and Elliott.

Dockweiler’s band was committed to New York Gov. Al Smith for the presidential nomination. In those days of national Prohibition, Dockweiler was a “wet”—as was Smith; McAdoo was a “dry.”

Having decided not to seek the presidential nomination that year, McAdoo was a supporter of U.S. Sen. Thomas J. Walsh, D-Montana, a staunch defender of Prohibition. (In arguing in favor of the enactment of 18th Amendment, he had characterized it as a measure that would safeguard women “from the assaults of drink-crazed negroes.”) After Walsh faltered in the California primary, he withdrew as a contender.

In 1932, McAdoo did not step forward as a presidential contender, as he had in 1920 and 1924. But his presidential ambition had not burned out.

Then, as this year, there were separate, early, party presidential primaries, held in 1932 on May 3. McAdoo headed the delegation backing U.S. Rep. John Nance Garner, D-Texas, who was speaker of the House, and the candidate being promoted by publisher/politician William Randolph Hearst. Dockweiler was an enthusiast of New York Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

As Douglas B. Craig tells it in his 1992 book, “After Wilson: The Struggle for the Democratic Party, 1920-1934”:

The Roosevelt forces joined the northern California Democrats under Isidore Dockweiler, from whom McAdoo and his allies in Los Angeles had split with great bitterness in 1926….Roosevelt was decisively beaten….

McAdoo’s continued opposition to FDR was part of his strategy for 1932. He hoped to keep his nucleus of supporters from endorsing Roosevelt so as to have them at his call should the political climate appear promising as the convention neared. His public endorsement of Garner may well have been designed to create such conditions by heightening speculation that Roosevelt could not be nominated and that a deadlocked convention would result at Chicago. This suspicion was strengthened by the secretary’s surprise announcement on the eve of the convention that, in order to remove prohibition as an issue in the coming campaign, he now favored a referendum on the future of the Eighteenth Amendment. This was a considerable change from his heretofore “bone dry” attitude and was clearly designed to increase his acceptability as a compromise choice in the event of Roosevelt’s defeat…

The Roosevelt camp was in little doubt that such was the case. Isidore Dockweiler wrote to [former Democratic national chairman and future U.S. attorney general] Homer Cummings in March 1932 that McAdoo was well aware that “Garner cannot be nominated; but McAdoo still cherishes the delusion that he is...presidential material.” The secretary hoped that the delegates in Chicago would be so swept off their feet by the mention of his name that he would be “elevated to the presidential nomination à la [William Jennings] Bryan in 1896.”

McAdoo became a candidate for his party’s U.S. Senate nomination, and it looked for awhile like he would get it without a fight. At the eleventh hour, however, on June 25, the Democratic state chairman, Justus S. Wardell, jumped into the race. He was a booster of the candidacy of Roosevelt (who would receive his party’s presidential nod six days later)—and favored repeal of Prohibition.

”The Democrats of California will not submit to the domination of their party by the W. R. Hearst-William Gibbs McAdoo alliance,” Dockweiler declared on Aug. 29, the day before the primary, adding: “Wardell’s victory is assured.”

Wrong. McAdoo won the nomination.

McAdoo defeated Shortridge in the general election, served a term in the Senate, but failed to obtain his party’s nomination in 1938.

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